Wednesday 29 November 2017

Metastasian first encounter: teenage Mozart's Il sogno di Scipione

Mozart - Il sogno di scipione - Classical Opera, Signum Classics
Mozart Il sogno di Scipione; Stuart Jackson, Klara Ek, Soraya Mafi, Krystian Adam, Robert Murray, Chiara Skerath, Classical Opera, Ian Page; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 22 2017 Star rating: 3.5
A stylish performance of Mozart's early serenata, though the composer seems to have been only intermittently engaged

Mozart's Il sogno di Scipione is fascinating because the opera represents an early encounter with Metastasio, the writer of the original libretto for Mozart's final opera seria, La Clemenza di Tito. During Mozart's lifetime Metastasio's librettos would come to be regarded as somewhat old-fashioned, but clearly they continued to hold a fascination for him.

This new recording of Il sogno di Scipione on Signum Classics is part of Ian Page and Classical Opera's complete Mozart edition. Page conducts Classical Opera with a strong cast featuring Stuart Jackson, Klara Ek, Soraya Mafi, Krystian Adam, Robert Murray and Chiara Skerath.

Il sogno di Scipione was composed in 1770, following the successful performances of Mitridate, re di Ponto in Milan. Il sogno di Scipione was actually written for Mozart's employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg, though the circumstances are somewhat unclear. It seems to have been written for the licenza, the annual celebration of the Archbishop's consecration. But, because of a change of Archbishop, the work may never have been performed.

Prior to Il sogno di Scipione Mozart had composed a number of arias to Metastasio texts, but no complete work. Il sogno di Scipione is a serenata originally written in 1735 for the birthday celebrations of the Hapsburg Emperor. The plot is hardly revolutionary. Scipio, the famous Roman general falls asleep and dreams. The allegorical figures of Fortune and  Constancy appear to him, as do his father Emilio and adoptive grandfather Publio. With advice from Emilio and Publio, Scipione chooses between Fortune and Constancy, and he chooses the latter. When Scipione wakes up he takes the meaning of the dream to heart, and in the licenza at the end the muse explains the story was in fact about the Archbishop, cue chorus of praise.

Mozart's music is never less than interesting, and considering he was only 14 or 15 when he wrote it, then the result is astonishing.
But, quite simply, the lack of real drama in the plot seems to mean that the young Mozart did not really get fully engaged with his characters.

Ian Page and his cast give their usual stylish performances. There is a great deal of recitative, which the cast give in a striking and vibrant manner, though I could have wished that they had moved it along a bit more. All the singers have complex arias to sing and do so with devastating skill and style, and there are some certainly lovely incidental moments.

But it is Stuart Jackson in the title role who gets the best music. At the end of the 'plot' Scipione wakes up in a strikingly dramatic accompanied recitative which finally allows Stuart Jackson to give us some real drama. This then moves into something more magical, when we get real glimpses of the maturer Mozart, an indication of what the young prodigy could do when his imagination was fully engaged.

As ever with this series you get an excellent booklet article by Ian Page which gives the full historical background to the piece, and there is an appendix on the disc which gives us Mozart's original version of the final aria (which he subsequently vastly expanded and revised).

This is a very fine performance indeed, and if you are interested in what the young Mozart was getting up do then I can think of no finer version. But the work simply does not engage in the way that Mitridate, re di Ponto (see my review) does and is perhaps for Mozart completists only.

Mozart (1756-1791) - Il sogno di Scipione (1771)
Scipione - Stuart Jackson (tenor)
Costanza - Klara Ek (soprano)
Fortuna - Soraya Mafi (soprano)
Publio - Krystian Adam (tenor)
Emilio - Robert Murray (tenor)
Licenza - Chiara Skerath (soprano)
Classical Opera
Ian Page (conductor)
Recorded at the Church of St Augustine, Kilburn, 16-19 October 2016
SIGNUM CLASSICS SIGCD499 2CDs [58'17, 49'57]

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